Janet Sheridan: I’m hair brained
October 30, 2018
Marta, my roommate, grabbed a strand of my hair, pulled it straight, and repeatedly scraped a metal fine-toothed comb along its length until a knot of hair formed, repeating the process until my scalp bristled with knotted clumps. Education majors, not cosmetologists, we said we ratted each other's hair until our roommate, a sophisticated dance student from Salt Lake City, corrected us: "Please, the correct term is backcombed or teased."
When Marta finished, I used a brush to smooth the surface of all the little knots, which created a colossal hair-sprayed lacquered dome, and I was beautiful. Perhaps my first husband married me for my bountiful bouffant, but probably not. He later said when he first leaned in to kiss me, he feared getting stuck in the sticky lump that sprouted from my head.
When young, I happily wore my hair however Mom fixed it, but during my fifth-grade year, she turned the task over to me. Appalled by the time and effort it took to make it look presentable, I switched to an unruly ponytail, gluing my bangs down with Brylcreem. But I enjoyed only a few carefree days before Mom noticed my hair and insisted I brush it before pulling it into a ponytail.
"Why," she asked, "would you want to go to school with your hair looking like the tail of an old mare lost in a burr patch?"
Thus, I learned the downside of being a girl: Mom buzzed Bob's head with clippers. He never worried about his hair, didn't know what a brush was, and had the same haircut as every other boy at Lake Shore Elementary — and none of them cared.
Eventually, I became obsessed with my hair and began making hair-brained attempts to alter its natural tendencies. I backcombed it to make it look thicker and bigger until Cher, who had long, straight, smooth hair, debuted with Sonny in their TV Comedy Hour, after which I stretched my wet hair with a brush while blasting it with a hot blow dryer to straighten its curly wave. Next, the shoulder-padded, curly-haired '80s hit, and, wanting to make what the curl God gave me even curlier, I endured the pungent unpleasantness of permanents.
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Sadly, every time I managed to achieve a current look, the fashion parade had sashayed down the street and around the corner. I swished my ponytail long after all other ponies had died, and my bouffant exceeded its expiration date by months before it deflated. But I tried. Over the years, I flaunted Audrey Hepburn's pixie, Toni Tennille's pageboy, and Farrah Fawcett's feathers. For a few months, I even experimented with a beehive, despite rumors about stylish ladies suffering agonizing deaths when the spiders nesting in their beehives bit them.
Meanwhile, Bob went through college and into a successful career and marriage with the same haircut he'd always had and nary a worry in his empty head.
In my 50s, I slid down the slippery slope of costly and time-consuming color treatments, graduating from highlights to weaves to total dye jobs. I remember staring in dumfounded silence at a salon mirror after having my hair dyed for the first time. I had expected a halo of soft brown curls, giving my face a youthful glow. Instead, I beheld an orange straw-stack sticking out around a wrinkled face. I haven't looked in a salon mirror since.
The entire process of graying offended me.
"Why am I the lucky one?" I asked myself at family reunions, where my mother and both my sisters sported their naturally brunette hair long after I was addicted to dye. To this day, Carolyn, four years older than I, and Barbara, four years younger, look in the mirror and see the same hair color they've seen their entire lives. Sometimes, their good fortune forces me to become snappish with them.
As for Bob, he's quite cheerfully going bald, has little hair to not worry about, and smiles a lot.
Janet Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.